Friday, Nov. 15 saw the opening night of the play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” put on by the University of Maine School of Performing Arts (SPA). The play, based on the novel written by Mark Haddon, was directed by Cary Libkin and adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens. A cast comprised of both theatre students and non-theatre students performed in the play, including Elijah McTiernan, a third-year music education and theatre student who starred in the role of Christopher Boone, the protagonist of the play.
The story follows Christopher as he attempts to solve the murder of his neighbor’s dog Wellington. However, this investigation reveals more about his complicated relationships with his father and his presumed-dead mother than Wellington’s mysterious death. In addition to those difficult realizations, Christopher practices navigating the world as an autistic fifteen-year-old. While Christopher’s condition is not laid out explicitly, it is the intention of the author, and explained in the playbill, that he is understood to be on the autism spectrum.
“Christopher, the young protagonist … appears to have autism spectrum disorder,” the play’s description notes. “In this regard, he joins a growing list of fictional characters exhibiting symptoms associated with autism. Yet, both Mark Haddon’s novel and Simon Stephens’ stage adaptation of it attempt not only to depict an autistic character, but also to give the reader, or viewer, some understanding of the unique point-of-view of a person living with autism.”
The play dynamically presents Christopher’s perspective in several ways, including having Christopher’s teacher, Sibbohan, read aloud from a book that Christopher wrote to give the audience his perspective on the occurring events. Christopher and his teacher, played by Vanessa Graham, a third-year theatre and chemical engineering student, narrate the story through dialogue made up in part by Siobhan reading Christopher’s thoughts from his journal of the events.
The play also makes interesting use of a group of supporting cast members who also illustrate Christopher’s perspective. Five cast members work to personify what he is thinking or doing. In one scene, he empties his pockets at the police station. Each supporting cast member carefully places an object on the table. The decision to have the mental and physical world played by actors really brought the play to life, making everyday encounters more visual and alive, as well as giving Christopher’s stories an exciting reimagining. A good example of this is when the protagonist is recounting the joy he experiences when he looks up at the stars. As Christopher motions to lie back on the ground, the ensemble picks him up and moves him around the stage, showing the wandering feeling of his visual experience through space above him.
The production of the play in the light and sound departments greatly contributed to the success of the show, as did the staging and moving of objects. These departments were in part led by Christopher Annas-Lee, Dan Biladeau, Curtis Craig and Mary Jean Sedlock. The show included visual effects that were both intricate and colorful, as well as detailed sounds that bridged dialogue and scene changes.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” has showings in Hauck Auditorium through Nov. 24 and is free for students with a MaineCard.